Shingles vaccine overview
A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease, is available on the NHS to people in their 70s.
The shingles vaccine is given as an injection into the upper arm. Unlike the flu vaccine, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.
Most people will only need 1 dose, but some people who cannot have the routine vaccine for health reasons will need 2 doses.
The shingles vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you do go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. Shingles can also be fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.
It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before, and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks. Your GP will tell you how long to wait after you recover from shingles before having the shingles vaccine. This may be up to 1 year.
Who can have the shingles vaccination?
You're eligible for the shingles vaccine if you are aged 70 to 79.
The shingles vaccine is not available on the NHS to anyone aged 80 or over because it seems to be less effective in this age group.
Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine.
How do I get the shingles vaccine?
Once you become eligible for shingles vaccination a GP or practice nurse will offer you the vaccine when you attend the surgery for general reasons.
If you are worried that you may miss out on the shingles vaccination, contact your GP surgery to arrange an appointment to have the vaccine.
What is the brand name of the shingles vaccine?
There are 2 shingles vaccines used in the UK:
- Zostavax, a live vaccine given as 1 dose
- Shingrix, a non-live vaccine given as 2 doses, 2 months apart
Most people will have the Zostavax vaccine. The Shingrix vaccine is recommended if Zostavax is not suitable for you, for example if you have a condition that affects your immune system.
You can read more about the shingles vaccines in the patient information leaflets:
How does the shingles vaccine work?
The vaccine recommended for most people is a live vaccine called Zostavax. It contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical, to the chickenpox vaccine.
People with a weakened immune system cannot have live vaccines. They will be offered a non-live vaccine called Shingrix. It activates the immune system but also contains an ingredient called an adjuvant, which helps to boost the response to the vaccine.
Very occasionally, people develop chickenpox following shingles vaccination (fewer than 1 in 10,000 individuals). Talk to a GP if this happens to you.
How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?
It's difficult to be precise, but research suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least 5 years, probably longer.
How safe is the shingles vaccine?
There is a lot of evidence showing that the shingles vaccine is very safe. Both types of vaccine have already been used in several countries, including the US and Canada, and no safety concerns have been raised. The vaccine also has few side effects.
Read more about shingles vaccine side effects.
What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.
It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.
Read more about the symptoms of shingles.
How is shingles spread?
You do not "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of a range of issues, including advancing age, medicine, illness or stress.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around 1 in 5 people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles.
Read more about the causes of shingles.
Who's most at risk of shingles?
People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of 70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers cannot even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.
The pain of shingles can also linger long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Read the answers to shingles vaccine frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Page last reviewed: 31 August 2021
Next review due: 31 August 2024
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